BUSINESS AS USUAL. People in Pangasinan, travelers or not, can now  again partake of tupig, a rice cake known as among the products of the province. This, as sellers have resumed their businesses following the continued easing of movement restrictions put in place since the pandemic hit two years ago. (Photo by Joann Santiago-Villanueva)

MANGATAREM, Pangasinan – After two years since the pandemic hit, provincial buses have resumed trips from Manila to Pangasinan and vice versa and people -- who do not have other means of transportation -- can finally travel again.
This, as the government continues to reopen the economy to allow more economic activities and aid people in the new normal.
Aside from travelers and transport sector workers, small business owners like Carmelita Fernandez, 38, are also elated over this development. 
Fernandez cooks and sells tupig, a rice cake variant made from glutinous rice, coconut milk, coconut meat strips, and sugar which is famous in the Ilocos Region and some parts of Cagayan Valley. 
Tupig, which is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over live charcoal, is usually offered by sellers in bus stations and bus stops. 
In an interview by the Philippine News Agency, Fernandez said bus conductors do not allow them to hop in the buses anymore to offer tupig to passengers. 
Dahil po sa pandemic (It’s because of the pandemic),” she said, referring to the social distancing call by the government to lessen the transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Fernandez, who is from this municipality, has been selling tupig for around 20 years, a business she learned from her mother. 
From total sales of over PHP3,000 pre-pandemic, Fernandez said average sales since she resumed operations in December 2021 is only about PHP2,000. 
Hindi pa po tubo yun. Kaya swerte na lang kung maubos yung tatlong basket na dinadala namin araw-araw (That’s not the net income yet. We’re lucky if we’re able to sell all three baskets of tupig we sell daily,” she said. 
Fernandez said tupig does not spoil easily so they just reheat the unsold items the following day, and prioritize this for selling over the newly-cooked ones. 
She is grateful that the government has allowed the resumption of provincial bus trips to Pangasinan, adding that when her business stopped following the lockdown measures in March 2020, their family of seven ate only twice a day --late breakfast and dinner. 
Wala naman po kaming magagawa kundi pagkasyahin yung kita ng asawa ko sa pagtatraysikel (We have no choice but to fit up what my husband earns for driving a tricycle),” she added. 
Fernandez said that although two of her kids are enrolled under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), which allows the family to receive around PHP5,100 monthly subsidy from the government, this is not enough to sustain their daily needs.
When movement restrictions were eased and the government allowed more people in malls and theme parks, among other places, Fernandez said she grabbed the opportunity to resume her business with the help of her kids who are still attending distance learning. 
Preparing the tupig takes hours, from sourcing and mixing the ingredients until the wrapping process to cooking it, Fernandez said. 
She sells her products from 7 a.m. to around 7 p.m. Travel time from her residence to the municipal center takes around 30 minutes, she said. 
Fernandez said selling to public transport passengers remains slow so she also takes advantage of selling to people in private cars and those who go to the various food joints within the municipal center. 
Kakayanin po lahat ng hirap para sa pamilya (I will endure all the hardships for my family),” she added. 
The Pangasinan provincial government, through Executive Order No. 0027-2022 issued on April 20, 2022, lifted the province-wide curfew as Covid-19 cases continue to decline. 
Data posted on the provincial government’s Facebook page show that as of April 25, 2022, there were seven active cases here, with one new confirmed case. Total cases reached 43,106 while total recoveries at 41,767. (PNA)